Molinari on the Penguins: Powder blue jerseys in the closet for the rest of the year
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The Penguins proved through the first three-quarters of the season that there are many ways to lose hockey games.
Sometimes, they were beaten because their team defense was leaky.
Occasionally, the culprit was subpar goaltending.
And far more often than anyone would have expected last fall, a power play that fizzled cost them victories.
There were other factors, too. Some suspect tactical and personnel decisions, for example, along with lapses in concentration and discipline.
And, to hear some segments of the fan base tell it, the team's powder blue third jerseys were at least part of the problem, too. The Penguins are 3-5-2 when wearing them this season.
While there's no way to dispute those numbers, it's quite a stretch to suggest that the sweaters a team wears for a given game could have a meaningful impact on its performance.
The point is moot, though, because the powder blue sweaters have been mothballed until next season. After wearing them 10 times in 29 home games between mid-November and last Sunday, the Penguins have decided to stick with their regular uniforms for the balance of the regular season and the playoffs.
Not necessarily because of any ill fortune associated with their third jerseys -- one team executive noted, quite accurately, that the Penguins routinely found ways to sputter and stumble through much of this season, no matter what they had on -- but to avoid overexposure.
There are no plans to alter or replace the team's primary color scheme (black and Las Vegas gold) or to dump the powder blue third sweaters, which were developed by the NHL for the outdoors game in Buffalo Jan. 1, 2008, and subsequently adopted by the Penguins after fans were so quick to embrace them.
While there is nothing but anecdotal evidence, team officials believe they have the most popular third jerseys in the league. At the very least, they have been a major marketing success, so popular that the Penguins opened a second team store at Mellon Arena to deal with the demand.
Dan Bylsma might have the best feel for Janne Pesonen's talent and potential of anyone in North America.
And for how Pesonen has coped with what has to an exasperating first season on this side of the Atlantic.
Pesonen, the leading scorer in Finland's top league last season, signed a one-year contract with the Penguins last July, and was projected as a possible top-six forward.
However, he has made it into just seven NHL games, generally being cast in a fourth-line role that hardly is tailored to his strengths.
This despite being highly productive for the Penguins' minor league tarm team in Wilkes-Barre, where he has obliterated the team record for points in a season with 73 (29 goals and 44 assists) in 62 games before the Baby Penguins faced Toronto last night.
Bylsma, who coached Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before being summoned to replace Michel Therrien six weeks ago, said he had regular conversations with Pesonen, as well as his other players, about how their games and careers were progressing.
"I talked about the scenarios with him," Bylsma said. "There was never a point where Janne said, 'Man, I'm frustrated with the situation.' "
Pesonen will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there's no firm indication of whether he'll be interested in returning to the Penguins. If he does, Bylsma believes he not only is a legitimate candidate to play in the NHL, but to play on one of the top two lines.
"That's where I do see Janne having his best chance to have success at this level," Bylsma said.
Of course, Pesonen succeeding in the NHL never has gotten past the hypothetical stage. He hasn't played here since Jan. 16, and didn't make it out of street clothes after being promoted for one game Feb. 25.
Nonetheless, Bylsma said he and general manager Ray Shero discuss the merits of promoting Pesonen.
"It's talked about," Bylsma said. "We know what he's doing, we know how well he's playing.
"I do believe Janne Pesonen can play in this league. I do believe he's getting better and better and better down there, in terms of showing his game and bringing his skill to the table.
Pesonen's offensive totals include the game-winning and insurance goals in the Baby Penguins' 5-3 victory at Grand Rapids last Wednesday, but he wasn't the only one to earn a little attention that evening.
Chris Minard set franchise records with his 32nd goal of the season and 32nd career power play goal, goalie John Curry earned his 29th victory of the season to move within one of Dany Sabourin's team record set in 2005-06, and Connor James was named the 14th captain in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history.
First Published March 29, 2009 12:00 am